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Full text of "The Dutch Settlements of Sheboygan County"

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THE DUTCH SETTLEMENTS OF SHEBOYGAN 

COUNTY 

By Sipko F. Rederus 

Dutch settlements have never been numerous in America 
or in any other country not flying the Dutch flag. The 
Hollanders, unlike their German and British neighbors, have 
no natural inclination to roaming and adventure; and being 
strongly attached to their native soil they have preferred 
attempting to improve conditions at home to hazarding their 
fortune in a foreign country. This love of country has 
changed the Netherlands from a boggy land to a beautiful, 
productive country with an intelligent, industrious, and artis- 
tic people now numbering about six millions. 

Unusual conditions, political, economic, and religious, 
have, however, from time to time caused Hollanders to emi- 
grate to foreign lands, and during the decade 1840-50 many 
set sail for the United States. After the fall of Napoleon 
the Netherlands had changed from a republican to a limited 
monarchical form of government. Belgium reunited with 
Holland under the name of Kingdom of Netherlands, with 
William I, son of the former Dutch stadtholder, as king. 
The union was not successful, and the rebellion of 1830, which 
resulted in the separation of Holland and Belgium, necessi- 
tated large armies which William I kept up for years in the 
hope of reconquering Belgium. Then in 1825 an inundation 
of the ocean swept away the dikes, devastated the land, and 
left thousands homeless and without resources. With the 
abdication of William I and the accession of his son, William 
II, conditions did not improve. War and flood turned the 
thoughts of the suffering lower and middle classes to emigra- 
tion, and the period from 1840 to 1850 saw the great exodus 
of Dutch to America. 




PETER DAAN 

Pioneer Dutch Settler in Oostburg, Sheboygan County, Wisconsin 



Dutch Settlements 257 

Religious difficulties arising at this time also caused the 
emigration of several distinct groups. With the separation 
of Holland from Spain came separation from the civil and 
religious rule of the Catholic Church and the adoption of 
the Reformed Church by the State. The Dutch Reformed 
Church was Calvinistic in doctrine and Presbyterian in 
government. German philosophy and French liberalism 
gradually influenced the lives of members of the State 
Church; and the monarch and other governmental officers 
being friendly toward the new thought, the church synods 
permitted certain changes in the service and doctrine. Again 
and again the orthodox party tried to overthrow the new 
order, and after many failures in such attempts left the estab- 
lished church to form a separate ecclesiastical body called the 
Free Separate Reformed Church. 

The civil government, fearing that civil revolution would 
follow this religious upheaval, opposed the new church, for- 
bade meetings, and fined ministers. With the accession of 
William II the organization was recognized as a corporate 
body, but many restrictions were imposed upon it and 
financial aid, granted other denominations, was refused it. 
A large number of the Separatists gladly accepted the terms 
imposed, but others, smarting under the restrictions and fore- 
seeing no relief in the near future, resolved to emigrate to 
America. 

Three separate parties, each under a prominent minister, 
were formed for the purpose of founding settlements in the 
United States. Rev. R. C. Van Raalte led his people to the 
eastern shore of Lake Michigan, where they founded settle- 
ments which later came to be among the prosperous com- 
munities of Michigan. Among them are Holland, where 
Hope College was founded, Grand Haven, Muskegon, and 
Grand Rapids. 

Under Rev. H. P. Scholte a party of Dutch immigrants 
went to southern Iowa and settled a large tract of land 



258 Sipko F. Rederus 

purchased from the government. The city of Pella, where 
Central College is located, is the center of a number of com- 
munities, all of which have prosperous industries and beauti- 
ful churches of the Reformed faith. 

The party led by Rev. P. Zonne secured by purchase from 
the government a section of country bordering on Lake 
Michigan, some twenty miles south of the present city of 
Sheboygan. The settlers arrived in the spring of 1847 after 
a stormy voyage across the Atlantic, making the journey 
inland by way of the Hudson River, Erie Canal, and Great 
Lakes. In settling this region the Zonne party had been 
preceded by other Dutch families. In 1844 Lawrence Zuvelt 
and his family settled in a locality four and one-half miles 
northwest of what later became the Zonne settlement, and 
in 1846 they were joined by G. H. Koltsee and John Boland 
and their families. 

A tragic event marked the growth of this settlement. 
In 1848 the May flower , filled with immigrants to Wisconsin, 
including many Hollanders, had proceeded as far as She- 
boygan when fire was discovered. When, in spite of the 
crew's efforts, the flames seemed to be gaining headway, a 
panic ensued, and many lost their lives in the fire or in the 
water. Others were landed in pitiful condition on the shores 
of Wisconsin. Three Hollanders, Wilterdenk , Oonk, and 
Rensink by name, were among those rescued. Wilterdenk 
had lost his wife and six children in the catastrophe. 

The Zonne community rapidly overtook the earlier set- 
tlement in size and development. Cedar Grove was the name 
given it by Reverend Zonne, because cedar formed the 
greatest part of the forest near by, in portions of which the 
Indians still lived. The land was ideal for the painter, poet, 
and hunter, but the matter-of-fact Hollanders, though 
belonging to a race which had produced great artists, writers, 
and explorers, had not come to dream, paint pictures, or 
follow the chase. The land was valued by the settlers as a 



Dutch Settlements 259 

means of material improvement; the forest was an obstacle 
and had to be removed. The work of destruction went on 
systematically from season to season, and in a short time large 
clearings could be seen on which were planted maize, wheat, 
and barley. All of these grains gave rich return, for the soil 
was fertile and not easily exhausted. 

Clearing the ground for the first crop, however, was a diffi- 
cult process. How to remove the trees after they had been 
felled with such difficulty was a problem. The settlers could 
not use all the wood for fuel nor could they convert the tree 
trunks into lumber. To dispose of the superabundance of 
wood, these pioneer farmers had to set it on fire, being care- 
ful to remove the immense pile to a safe distance from the 
forest and from the buildings already erected. The hard- 
wood tree stumps remaining in the fields after the trees had 
been cut were a great obstacle to cultivation of the ground. 
Digging the stumps out of the field was a long process, and 
explosives or machinery for doing this work were not then 
available. 

The forest, however, was a help as well as a hindrance. 
From the logs were made houses and barns, agricultural 
implements, wagons, and, to some extent, furniture. The 
forest possessed an abundance of game, wild blackberries, 
strawberries, wild grapes, and maple trees from which the 
settlers secured their sugar. Autumn brought a harvest of 
hickorynuts and walnuts. Cattle thrived in the woodland, 
and in certain parts flocks of sheep could be kept. From the 
wool the housewife knitted stockings and wove the homespun 
for the family clothing. 

Communication with other settlements was extremely 
difficult. For many years the Indian trails and the pathways 
blazed by the settlers were the only roads, tortuous at all 
times but almost impassable in winter. The principal trading 
posts, such as Port [Washington and Milwaukee, were far dis- 
tant from the Zonne settlement — Milwaukee being forty-five 



260 Sipko F. Bederus 

miles away — and under the best circumstances the slow- 
moving oxen made a long journey of it. Often the wagons 
broke down in the middle of the forest and the men would 
have to leave their loads in the road and go back home or to 
the trading post ahead for assistance. The lack of communi- 
cation was felt most during sickness and especially epidemics, 
for many a time the physician, after a long, hard journey, 
would arrive to find his patient dead or beyond help. 

Such were the difficulties with which these Dutch pioneers 
contended during the first years of their colonization. Their 
energy and perseverance, however, defeated one after an- 
other. Gradually the farms were cleared, the newly estab- 
lished sawmills turned out lumber for better houses and 
barns ; waterpower was utilized for the running of flour mills ; 
and stores were established within easy distance. Artisans 
joined the settlements, although blacksmiths had been found 
among the original settlers. As the forest gradually disap- 
peared, old trails were widened, roads were laid out, villages 
sprang up, and post offices were established. 

But in the midst of their growing prosperity the black 
war cloud gathered on the southern horizon and cast its 
shadows over this peaceful community. Many of the men, 
whose fathers had obtained liberty after eighty years of con- 
flict, were aroused, and leaving their plows took up the mus- 
ket. Sad times now followed, for now and then the news 
reached the settlement that some son or father had died in 
battle; but after the years of sorrow the laureled heroes 
returned to their firesides and a greater prosperity dawned. 

One of the men who was conspicuous in the conflict and 
even more so in the days of peace that followed was Peter 
Daan. He was born in the Netherlands, in the town of West- 
kapelle, Province of Zeeland, March 26, 1835. When he 
was seven years of age his parents emigrated to America and 
settled in the town of Pultneyville, New York. Later the 
family moved to Wisconsin and bought a farm in Sheboygan 



Dutch Settlements 261 

County, near the present village of Oostburg. Peter Daan 
was one of the first to volunteer on the outbreak of the war, 
and through his influence and effort caused many to follow 
his example. In 1867 he commenced his mercantile business 
on the Sauk Trail, two and one-half miles east of Oostburg. 
As that town developed, he moved his business there, built a 
large store, an elevator, a steam flour mill, and later founded 
the bank of which he became president. He held that office 
until his death. The people, having confidence in his ability 
and good judgment, several times elected him president of 
the town. For years he held the office of justice of the peace, 
and because of his amicable manner of settling disputes he 
won the title among the people of "the peacemaker." 

As a young man he became a member of the Presbyterian 
Church, and later was made an elder, an office which he held 
until he died. Several times his presbytery elected him dele- 
gate to the higher ecclesiastical councils. In 1873 he was 
chosen a member of the Wisconsin legislative assembly. His 
death occurred June 14, 1914. 

After the Civil War the settlements entered a period of 
prosperity greater than any experienced before ; in fact many 
of the farmers, receiving high prices for their products during 
the war, laid the foundation of their wealth in this period. 
The villages of Oostburg and Cedar Grove expanded, and 
the new town of Gibbsville was founded three miles west of 
Oostburg. There a large flour mill, driven by water power, 
was built, and remains in operation to this day. East of 
Cedar Grove, on the lake shore, was built a pier where the 
great vessels could land. The settlement of Amsterdam, 
which developed here, became an important trading place for 
a time but was abandoned when the Chicago and North- 
western Railroad entered the territory. Oostburg and Cedar 
Grove, in both of which stations were erected, received the 
benefit of the improved communication. Grain elevators and 
business houses of all kinds were erected, and residences 



262 Sipko F. Rederus 

increased and improved. In the country better farmhouses 
and more spacious barns rapidly replaced the primitive log 
buildings. The acreage of land cleared, fenced in, and culti- 
vated, increased, and the herds of cattle and flocks of sheep 
became more numerous. Along the lake shore a profitable 
fishing industry was developed. Everywhere the result of 
hard work and thrift was seen. Luctor et emergo (I struggle 
and rise higher), the motto of the Province of Zeeland from 
which these Dutch settlers had come, represented the achieve- 
ments of these people as well as those of their sturdy an- 
cestors. 

In the midst of their hard struggle for material improve- 
ment these people had not been neglectful of religious mat- 
ters. Upon their arrival, under the leadership of Reverend 
Zonne they had organized themselves into a church and 
united with the Presbyterian organization. In the following 
year, 1848, Reverend Zonne built a house of worship on his 
own estate and gave it to his congregation. This church, 
built about a mile north of the present site of Cedar Grove, 
was the first of the Presbyterian denomination in that region. 
In the course of time another house of worship was built in 
the settlement later known as Cedar Grove by those who 
were not in harmony with Reverend Zonne. This congrega- 
tion united with the old Dutch Reformed Church of America, 
founded in New Amsterdam (now New York) in the eight- 
eenth century. This is the oldest and wealthiest (in propor- 
tion to size) of all ecclesiastical bodies in America. 

In 1853 another Presbyterian church was built four and 
one-half miles north of Cedar Grove on the Sauk Trail. 
Reverend Van de Schurn was the first pastor and Peter Daan 
the first elder. This church with its large membership is 
flourishing today under the pastorate of Rev. C. Van Grie- 
thuizen. A Dutch Reformed church was later established at 
the same place, and others of the same denomination were 



Dutch Settlements 263 

erected in the settlement later becoming the village of Oost- 
burg, and in Gibbsville. 

All these churches were in the beginning unpretentious 
log structures ; but as the people began to amass wealth, the 
old churches were replaced by substantial, attractive build- 
ings surmounted by spires or towers for the church bells. 
Comfortable residences for the pastors have been erected on 
the church premises. All the congregations are flourishing 
today; and although they profess far more liberal views 
than their ancestors, the descendants of the early pioneers 
are equally devoted to these institutions. 

Of all these churches, the one founded by Reverend Zonne 
has always been the most prominent, not only because it has 
the largest membership but because it possesses greater his- 
toric associations. The second edifice of this organization, a 
plain frame building without a tower, was replaced in 1882 
by a much larger and more attractive building, the gift of a 
pioneer member, J. Lammers. The church is a picturesque 
landmark whose spire can be seen for miles. The interior has 
been considerably improved of late, and a pipe organ has 
recently been installed. An old churchyard is at one side of 
the church, and here lie the remains of the Reverend Zonne 
and many other early worthies of the church. 

The organization has always had a prosperous record, but 
its greatest growth began in 1882 when Rev. J. J. W. Roth 
began his pastorate of more than thirty-two years. Reverend 
Roth was born in Capetown, South Africa. There he received 
his collegiate training; and, later coming to America with his 
father, he studied theology at the McCormick Institute at 
Chicago, where he was graduated and ordained in 1878. 
After serving two small churches in Minnesota and Wiscon- 
sin, he became pastor of the Presbyterian Church at Cedar 
Grove. During the first year of his ministry the present 
church was built, and under his pastorate the congregation 
became strong and prosperous. Since the young people had 



264 Sipko F. Bederus 

become deficient in the language of their fathers, the intro- 
duction of English into the services had become a necessity. 
Dr. Roth, educated to both languages, preached to his people 
in both tongues. On May 1, 1914, Dr. Roth was stricken by 
apoplexy and remained unconscious for some days. Although 
he recovered consciousness, he lost the power of speech and 
the use of his limbs, and was compelled to end his active ser- 
vices. Since his illness he has lived in retirement in Cedar 
Grove. 

Dr. Roth is a man of scholarly attainment, being profi- 
cient in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek, and an artist of some 
ability. The church societies, all of which he founded, are in 
a flourishing condition. He was for years the leading man 
in the Milwaukee presbytery, and was several times elected 
its moderator and delegate to higher ecclesiastical councils. 
He has been succeeded by Rev. P. Van Straten. 

During the past twenty years the growth of the Dutch 
settlements has been remarkable. The village of Cedar Grove 
has grown into a thriving town with many prosperous business 
houses, grain elevators, and factories. It has a large public 
school, and a classical academy which is conducted by the 
Dutch Reformed Church of America. The bank of Cedar 
Grove is a flourishing institution founded some ten years ago. 
The deposits are over $300,000. 

The village of Oostburg has likewise prospered. Peter 
Daan's flour mill has been enlarged; implement, canning, 
cheese, and condensed milk factories have been built. Oost- 
burg and Cedar Grove are connected with each other, She- 
boygan, and Milwaukee by the hourly service of the Milwau- 
kee Northern Electric Railway. Returns from the planting 
of wheat, to which the farmers had devoted their principal 
attention had gradually decreased, and barley and rye are 
being substituted, also peas and beans which are sold to the 
canning factories. Many of the farmers, however, have 
turned to cattle raising, dairying, and cheese making as prin- 



Dutch Settlements 265 

cipal agricultural enterprises. In the making of cheese the 
Hollanders of Sheboygan County are recognized as experts 
and their brands are among the best in the state. 

Always interested in intellectual progress, the Dutch set- 
tlers have built and supported excellent schools, and many are 
sending their sons and daughters to colleges. Materially 
these people have prospered since the first band of settlers 
began to hew down the forest in 1847. The thoroughness 
with which they did cut down all timber is being regretted at 
present by those who possess land bare of all but a few trees. 
This generation, however, is planting trees which, it is hoped, 
will soon remedy that great defect. 

In customs and manner of thinking the new generation 
differs greatly from the pioneers who started to develop the 
country. Their language is fast disappearing in public and 
in the homes, for only in the church is Dutch even partly used. 
This may be due to the similarity between the Dutch and the 
Anglo-Saxon languages which have a common factor in the 
Fresian tongue. 

The similarity of tongues and, in addition, of the political, 
religious, and economic struggles of the Dutch and the 
English settlers in America has caused the Dutch to be readily 
absorbed into the earlier population. The special character- 
istics, in addition to those common to both English and Dutch, 
make the Dutch element one of the most valuable in the state 
of Wisconsin.